Saturday: 05.November.2005

Nuclear-grade hazing

Regarding yesterday's entry about Jarhead, seeing that movie made me flash-back to my own days in the military. Many of the things he said in the flick (via voiceover), I could relate to (.. e.g. "uh, maybe enlisting wasn't such a great idea")

Like the story's main character, I also was not very "military" either. I just wanted to play with reactors. And the Navy had a mess of 'em, more than anybody, with an excellent safety record (which meant they knew what they were doing) cuz they had the best training program on the planet.

The first thing I recognized, in a scene near the beginning, is a group of veteran-marines playing a practical joke on the new recruit.

In the flick, just as the new guy walks in, a bunch of marines stage a fake branding, complete with blow-torch and a branding iron. The letters USMC glow red-hot.

Ten marines hold down one guy and act like they're branding him. The guy screams and a whiff of smoke rises from the pile of bodies. Looked real. Then they turned their attention to the new guy. A struggle ensues. The new guy is over-powered.

I was never very good at playing these practical jokes on new guys. But some people have a real gift for it.

The most memorable hazing occurred to a midshipman who had just reported aboard. Midshipmen are officers in training. Some day they will be your boss.

All new guys had to report to us and get a signature about how they should respond in the event of a radiological incident. We basically told them not to cross radiation ropes, report any leaks immediately .. common sense stuff like that.

So one afternoon, after reporting aboard, this midshipman comes by the lab (where everything is made of shiny stainless steel, for easy decontamination) looking for his RadCon sig.

I was analyzing a daily sample of reactor coolant, but one of my buddies had devised a haze. He never told me about it, so it was all new as I watched. Not sure if you had to be there, but it is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen.


Bill (my buddy, from Texas) instructed the midshipman read a few paragraphs from the Radiological Control (RadCon) manual (can you say "boring"?), then Bill put on a pair of thin latex gloves (like doctors do). Bill had previously set up the lab with a small 50-ml glass stoppered bottle containing pure water with a drop or two of blue dye.

The water wasn't radioactive, but he put a yellow-and-magenta radiation tri-blade sticker on the label Radiation tri-blade symbol, so it appeared so, especially with the blue dye.

We also had a supply of long-@ss needles, about six-inches long, that we used for indigo-carmine oxygen analyses .. where we would shoot a prepared reagent deep into a bottle containing a sample of water, which would react and change color based on the concentration of oxygen in the sample. Might sound complicated, but really simple cookbook stuff. (Darker colors = more oxygen)

Anyway, Bill explained to the midshipman how vaccines contain a little of the very thing you're being vaccinated against. To immunize you against the flu, for example, doctors inject you with a bit of flu. Your body reacts, producing anti-bodies that protect you.

While Bill is telling this to the midshipman, he carefully pours the contents of the blue liquid (which looks radioactive) into a 10ml cartridge (also labeled radioactive), with this *huge* syringe attached (never intended for human injections) .. totally straight-faced.

Midshipman nods like he understands the concept. Eyes wide as saucers. Apprehensive look on his face. "Well that's how we protect you against ionizing radiation," Bill says, inserting the plunger into the cartridge and turning the syringe skyward. "We inject you with a little radioactive liquid."

Flicking the tip of the needle with his finger, he squirts a little out the end. A tiny stream shoots up into the air. Dead serious, Bill says, "Important to get out all those air-bubbles." He's wearing goggles and a plastic lab apron.

At this point, I have to step out cuz I am ready to pee my pants. Standing right outside the lab, I hear Bill say, "Okay, drop your drawers, bend over, and put your elbows on the counter."

Don't know how he kept a straight face. I had tears running down mine. The midshipman says, "Really?" Bill says "Yeah, my injection quals are up to date," acting perturbed. "Just checked with the doc this morning. What's the problem?" (we have no injection qualifications)

So the midshipman reluctantly unzips his pants, drops his drawers, bends over and puts his elbows on the shiny stainless steel countertop. Bill then asks, "Okay, which nut you want it in?"

Sheepishly the midshipman says, "The left one."

Posted by Rad at November 5, 2005 07:00 AM


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